Artists' Books Q&A's

Recently an undergraduate student from my old uni contacted me to ask me some questions regarding artists' books and my work and thoughts on the subject. I found this a great opportunity to force myself to think about important aspects of my art book practice and thought I should share the Q&A's here.

How did you become involved with Artist's Books?

I first heard about artists’ books at University when I attended a workshop at KIAD (now UCA in Canterbury) where we were introduced to different methods of creating multiples. I had also begun using my studio sketchbooks as part of my work, rather than simply supporting material. I suppose I had started making artists’ books as a student without really realizing that’s what they were. Some were simply project sketchbooks, some were documentation of a particular piece of work, or series of works like my installations. These installations only existed for a certain time period, but using documentation like photos, sketches, notes etc… and compiling a book out of them was a way of preserving or archiving the piece for the future, a way to extend the reach of the original installation. When I had heard about artists’ books I found out through Lucy that the KIAD library had a special collection of them so I went and routed through them as if they were someone’s precious hoard and realized that a whole new medium had been opened up to me! Going back to the multiples workshop, this is when I first started using a photocopier to create artists’ books. I have carried this on into my current practice and also carried elements of the archival documentation books through to now.

What is your personal definition for an Artist Book?

I try to not use definitions because art can be so hard to pin down in words, but I suppose artists’ books are books that have transcended the bounds of a traditional book. Books made by an artist as a piece of art in its own right, be it a multiple publication or a one off piece. Artworks that don’t conform to the traditional codex form of a book can still be artists’ books however. As long as these pieces take into consideration the form and content of a traditional book and use important elements of these. For instance a narrative element in a website could make that an e-book, or the book nature of a lot of Ed Ruscha’s paintings.

Not sure is this helps but there is a big discussion online here:
to find out the canon for the 21st C. artist book. Lots of different ideas. My comment I made on there a while back is: “I call (most of) my art 'bookworks' rather than 'artists' books' because I tend to make 'one-offs' or small editions and the word seems to fit better with sculptural artists' books and other kind of one-offs. It also seems like a better word to encompass artists' e-books. Publication is a word I would never use to describe my work, and I would not consider using it for fear of someone not understanding (even more than now!) what I make.”

Micro-pages explores an exciting new way of exhibiting Artist's Books. Where do you see the future of an Artist Book with the advances in technology and the computer generation?

I see this as a very exciting time for the genre. Developments in technology are of course a big driving force as they have been to artists throughout history. The potential for using new technologies to not only create but display artists’ books is huge. Take for instance the British Library’s ‘Turning the Pages’ project; this has opened up fantastic display opportunities for exhibitions. This particular technology does still have it’s disadvantages when it comes to display of artists’ books but it is a brilliant alternative to allow viewers to see the whole of a book rather than just a limited few pages or even just the cover as you would if the book was in a glass case. Having observed the reactions of viewers of several book art exhibitions, (notably ‘Blood on Paper’ at the V&A) as well as the interaction of the public with book displays and original archive material in my current library job, I have been struck by the frustrations and limitations of book display; current trends in technology are opening up so many possibilities that might be helpful in this field. Mobile phone technology is another big one, and some artists have begun making SMS or MMS artists’ books and using i-phones apps as either ways to display or create work. Social networking is also something that artists are beginning to use, I for instance have started a Twitter based e-artist book recently:

Artist's are constantly reworking the idea of the book and creating interesting new works. How far can an Artist go with deconstructing the form of the book and it remaining an Artist Book?

As I mentioned in your previous question about my definition of an artist book, as long as some element of the concept of the traditional book remain then it is a book.

How do you feel about sites such as printedmatter, which now allows anyone to make a book?

I think that as long as the artist has consciously decided that they want to use this method, that they are happy with the lack on control they have over the final piece and that the structure of the book(s) being made are in tune with the concept of the piece then it’s a perfectly legitimate method of production. It is particularly useful for students and artists to produce professional looking books on a budget, and to sell them on demand to the general public. But I do not think that any book created in this manner can be an artists’ book, some methods of production are not of a high standard and the book itself may not last as long as if it was produced by a publishing house or even handmade and hand-bound by the artist themselves.

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